Invasion of lanternfly is serious threat
Steel tariffs and trade wars aside, the most worrisome import from China right now is the spotted lanternfly.
This invasive species native to China, Vietnam and India hijacked its way to the U.S. on pallets into Berks County in 2014, coming as an illegal immigrant bringing severe consequences.
Since then, it has overridden the region from Berks into Montgomery County, killing trees, covering house sidings and decks, forcing people out of backyard areas and making outdoor dining a chore of swatting and shooshing.
Beware Chester and Delaware counties: It’s just a matter of time before the red and white spotted pest finds you.
Because of its risk to Pennsylvania crops, such as grapes, hops, timber, and fruit-bearing trees, the state Department of Agriculture issued a quarantine in townships where the pest was first spotted to try to contain the spread. No such luck. The lanternfly has been confirmed to have spread to most of Berks County and parts of Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Lehigh counties. Sightings have been reported eastward into New Jersey and south as far as Kentucky.
With no natural predators, the spotted lanternfly poses a multibillion dollar threat to agriculture and forestry industries because it feeds on stone fruit-bearing plants and leaves behind a sticky substance that attracts mold.
State and federal officials are spending more than $20 million to research and eradicate the insect.
The Agriculture Department offers homeowners tips, that include banding trees with sticky tape to stop the adult insects from laying eggs, destroying Tree of Heaven trees where breeding occurs and spraying of pesticides when nothing else works.
Property owners are urged to scrape the muddy egg masses off trees and report them to the state.
Total number of eggs scrape reports as of March 3 of this year: 1,774,100.
The number of killing by banding is also being tabulated, and the Department of Agriculture has a website for reporting local “kills.”
Number of reported tree bands kills is 1,065,258.
The actual numbers are much higher, likely in the multi-millions, illustrating the severity of this invasion.
Although prolific and annoying, the lanternflies do not sting or bite. Thus, they can be killed by an army of swatters.
One such effort this summer was featured recently in an article by The Associated Press, highlighting a camp program to track down and squash the invaders.
The weeklong program, themed “Hunt for the Spotted Lanternfly,” involved about 27 children and their families and was sponsored by Centro Cultural Latinos Unidos, a bilingual organization providing services to Latino families, the National Park Service, Friends of Hopewell Furnace, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County Parks Department, Natural Lands Trust and Schuylkill River Greenways.
Children learned about the lanternfly and were then set loose to find the bugs and kill them by swatting or collecting in bags for disposal.
“We need to keep (children) safe and healthy, and the lanternfly does the opposite of that, basically,” said Sarah Crothers, education coordinator at the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area.
Education of property owners is a major goal of the state agriculture department. Information about acceptable pesticides, best removal techniques, and dealing with tree damage is detailed on their website. Property owners are also asked to report infestations to firstname.lastname@example.org to allow the department to continue tracking the spread of the pest.
That track is frighteningly fast and furious.
Berks County and its adjacent neighbors in Montgomery and Chester counties are seeing the worst inundations, but reports are showing that the invasion is moving at a rapid rate.
In this summer of swollen rivers and washed out landscaping, the lanternflies are yet another natural plague. Dealing with it will require an investment in science and a strong dose of ingenuity.
Meanwhile, swatting, scraping and spraying are the order of the day — until we bring this pest under control.